I Missed an Exam

So I decided to go back to school and started an online bachelors in English program with a writing concentration in January, with a full course load. I’m also working full time. Yesterday I realized I missed an EXAM that was due Friday. Yes, an EXAM. One of only four that is responsible for 16% of my grade. I have no good reason for having missed it. There were multiple emails sent out about it reminding us it was coming up and even a study group that another student had started to prepare for it. My only excuse is that a quiz for a different course was also due that day and I got confused. When I realized I missed the exam deadline, I emailed my professor and asked if there’s any way I can make it up. If not, I will ask for extra credit opportunities so I can possibly make up some of the points. I feel so stupid. And inadequate. And like a fraud. It makes me think, why did I ever go back to school? Why am I paying tuition money? At my age, I probably should have saved that money for something more practical. I went back to school to earn a degree in something I love and possibly work in publishing, get away from the vortex of soul-sucking, meaningless jobs I’ve been working. I’m so mad at my stupid mistake, though. I wonder if it’s even worth staying in school while I experience such severe depression-induced fog 24/7. I wonder if I “bit off more than I can chew”. Anyway, I just felt like getting the feelings I’m experiencing out of my head and down “on paper” in an organized way. I realize this isn’t earth-shattering and will not actually affect the outcome of my life, but it feels earth-shattering right now. And I keep obsessing like, what if because of not making an A in this class I get passed up for an internship or job opportunity in the future? I was hoping to make an A in all my classes except for the math classes, where I’d feel lucky to get a B. The self-loathing is just pretty bad right now. I think, there are some people who go to school, work, and have a spouse and kids to take care of and be there for. And maybe other things going on, as well, like church or other community activities. And I do none of that. So why did I screw up? It’s 7 in the morning and I just realized last night I had missed it, and I just woke up and decided I had to write about this. Try to get it out of my system. Because I don’t want to obsess about it even more and it ruin the rest of my weekend before I go back to work. Can anyone reading this relate with mental illness making even the smallest things seem so much harder? Anyway, thanks for listening/ reading.

Another Mental Health Post

Anybody else dealing with poor mental health just think, when I work this situation out or achieve this goal or get into this routine or stop doing this, all my mental health issues will fall away? I know this way of thinking has stopped me from getting help. And I just can’t seem to shake it. I do believe my issues are largely stem from living an unbalanced lifestyle, and that if I would just tweak certain things in my life, I’d be a lot happier and less stressed. I’d prefer changing my lifestyle to telling all my issues to a stranger and being put on strong medication with potential serious side effects. But I’m experiencing a vicious cycle where I need motivation, energy, and mental clarity in order to make the changes, which I don’t have because depression and anxiety have sapped those precious resources. I’m tired of the self-help books, as well. I’ve read so many of them at this point, and they all make the same basic points. They’re all helpful but only to the extent that I apply the advice and wisdom to my life instead of keeping it all in my head. I’ve been feeling more in the mood for novels with high intrigue, emotion, and twists. Something to truly allow me to enjoy and relax, get lost in a different world rather than to constantly examine my life, find it lacking, and spend all my time navel-gazing.

Isolation and the Pandemic

Anybody else feel like this pandemic has made them antsy to start going out and doing more, to have more of a life? I’m an introvert and tend to isolate a lot anyway due to my poor mental health, but it’s like not being able to go out and do things has made me want to. At the beginning of this pandemic when everything was starting to shut down, I’ll admit it felt kind of nice not to feel like a freak anymore, not to feel like I’m in the minority of people who have absolutely no life. That we’re all in the same position now. But that initial feeling has turned stale, and I’m just as unhappy as everybody else in these circumstances. I’m glad there’s a vaccine and I hope it’s made available to everyone soon. I want to take a sewing class or something when we can and it’s safe not to wear a mask the entire time. I know I could take one online or use a YouTube tutorial, but I want to get out and be around people a bit more, while pursuing a hobby I’m interested in. I think it would be good for me.

I’m Holding Back in My Writing

Recently I’ve realized how stunted my writing is. I’m constantly holding back. Writing, for me, has always been an essential outlet for releasing my emotions and getting thoughts out of my head and sorted into some kind of more tangible, manageable form. And yet, even privately, I’m unable to keep from censoring myself when putting my thoughts and emotions down on paper. It’s like I’m scared that by committing them to paper, all of my fears, bad memories, and wildest assumptions will take on a whole new, scarier reality. That by putting them to paper, they’ll become more powerful, more actual, more determinative. No more trapped inside my mind to be conjured up and played with or dismissed at will — now unleashed, a separate entity with a will all their own.

Yet what if I’m wrong? What if the opposite is actually true and, after writing down my thoughts and emotions, they seem a lot sillier and more insignificant to me? That’s in some ways more terrifying. I might realize my positions aren’t the most reasonable. I might realize I need to take some kind of action or change my perspective — that scares and unbalances me, makes me feel as though my legs have been swept out from under me. And worst of all, I might realize I have been living a mere existence, based on self-delusion, instead of the full life I could have been living. Is it possible I have created a meaningless existence for myself? Is my life made up of small things? Am I unfit for more important concerns and undertakings? The possibility I’ve been wasting my life on pettiness is crushing to consider.

Lastly, there are things I don’t want to admit about myself that I’m hardly able to think about, let alone put down on paper. Past actions, loathsome character traits I see in myself, reprehensible thoughts. Things that are already so painful to humor for even the brief moments they flit through my mind that I can’t imagine inscribing them and experiencing them via other senses, as well. The feeling of the pen in my hand as I write them. Looking at them on the page. Even smelling the paper and ink. The words, stark and accusing: “See, we are real. All your worst fears, most jaded perspectives, embarrassing memories, and horrifying suspicions about how others view you, they’re all true. We weren’t just ethereal synapses firing at random, easily rationalized away. We represent reality, and you’re going to have to confront us in a meaningful way sooner or later or your life will only ever be pain and sadness.”

Depression and anxiety have both affected my writing negatively. In turns, I feel each emotion. Depression numbs me to the point of no feelings, paralyzing my writing. Inversely, anxiety causes so many feelings to arise I become overcome with emotions and can’t think to write. Can any of you relate?

Feeling Overwhelmed

I’ve been thinking about the feeling of overwhelm. I experience it often and I’ve noticed that when I have a lot of items on my agenda or in my routine, it helps to take a more critical look and do away with anything that’s just not that important. It could be applying a full face of makeup in the morning or cutting down on hobbies or not going for a promotion at work. It’s really easy to inflate the importance of certain rituals, activities, or milestones until they start to negatively affect your peace of mind and your mental health. I’ve had to get pretty strict with myself because I know I get overwhelmed very easily and hate the feeling of being depleted either physically, mentally, or emotionally. This is a big reason I don’t have more of a social life. But on the flip side, a social life might also lift my spirits, giving me more energy. I’m just terrified of new expectations, new responsibilities, new (potentially awkward) social situations to navigate. It all feels so exhausting. Yet I think about people who have more responsibilities than I do, like someone who not only goes to work and school, but also has a spouse, children, and a large house to attend to. It’s easy for me to feel lazy and unmotivated when I compare myself to these people, but I know from an intellectual standpoint that everybody has different thresholds and tolerances for stressors, often in accordance with their personal mental health history.

Longing to Be Heard

Does anybody else have the hardest time opening up to others? I long so much to be heard. Yet I feel guilty burdening others with my problems, even when they want me to open up. One coworker divulged to me that even though we had known each other for several months and even though she had told me much about her own life (including the fact that she had been forced by her parents to get an abortion while in college and that as a middle-aged woman she had experienced an attempted rape), that she knew little to nothing about me. I have noticed that people often feel very comfortable telling me sensitive details about their own lives and coming to me for counsel. Yet I don’t feel comfortable reciprocating. I have taken the Myers-Briggs test a few times and always get INFJ as my result. From my research, this personality type is known as “the counselor/advocate” because we are often reticent to share anything about ourselves with others other than a shoulder to cry on and a listening ear. We are the “extraverted introverts”. I have always been more of a nurturer (although I have no desire to have children) and abhor the thought of being a burden to anybody. As a result, I end up in a pit of self-loathing, knowing I can’t blame others for not hearing me if I never give them the chance. Thus, the blame lies solely with me.

Happy International Day of Persons With Disabilities

December 3 is International Day of Persons With Disabilities. Many people with mental disorders qualify as being disabled. Severe mental illness can make it impossible to hold a job, drive a car, attend to personal hygiene, maintain a household, go shopping, or do many of the necessary activities of daily living that most take for granted. And yet many do not believe that those with diagnosed mental disorders should receive any governmental assistance. It can be a lot easier to have empathy and understanding for someone whose disability is visible, such as someone in a wheelchair, missing a limb, or someone with Down’s syndrome. I have written a poem on the topic I’d like to share with you here.

Invisible Disability

It’s waging a war fought by just one,

Sustaining hits to which no one else is

subjected,

And coming away with shrapnel

unsearchable by physical means,

While others deny a war is taking place,

Yet finding yourself on its front lines,

Without armor, unprotected, lacking well-

wishes of love and healing,

Hiding in public,

Camouflaging in plain sight,

Yet still the main target,

Required to fight,

Even while returns continue to diminish,

A losing battle.

Eight Tips for Staving Off Depression During the Holidays

While the Holidays are touted as an inherently happy, uplifting time of the year, for many people it is anything but. In fact, it can be a depressing time that many just try to “get through”. This time of the year can highlight the things that are wrong in your life, such as a lack of money or family or love. So what can you do to ease the pain?

man standing beside cliff

Be grateful. I know this wisdom can often come off as trite and preachy, but it has worked for me. Whenever I am feeling disconsolate, that the world is against me, that nothing ever goes my way, I think about the positives in my life. I think about what I have that many other people lack. I think about the ways in which I’m fortunate, what I’ve achieved, what I’ve been given, and the ways in which my life is a lot easier and fuller than other people’s. I don’t do this to gloat but instead to foster a grateful attitude in myself and to avoid encouraging negative thinking patterns. And it almost always works. Don’t criticize yourself for not having what others have. Others might have more money, closer families, and better love lives. They most likely also had different upbringings, experiences, and opportunities in life. They also likely face struggles you don’t know about. Keep your focus on you.

top view photography of person near palm trees

Don’t overextend yourself. It’s not worth getting into debt or stressing yourself over money in order to spend more than you can afford just to fit in with everyone else. Avoid getting wrapped up (pun unintended) in the commercialism of the season.

girl decorating the Christmas tree

Don’t concentrate on the past. Times might have been better back then. Holidays past might have been a lot cheerier. Thinking about those times might remind you of what you had and what you lost. We can’t go back, only forward, so concentrate on the changes you can make NOW to ensure happier future Holiday seasons.

man carrying girl

Make your own traditions. Maybe your family didn’t have any or you don’t subscribe to them. Make your own and start a new generational tradition among your family or friends. Post about it on social media if you have an account. Start a trend. Inspire others.

woman wearing black sports bra

Attend to self-care. Be extra gentle with yourself around this time of year. It can already be a dreary, cold time. Don’t beat yourself up for having a different life than others or for not being able to enjoy the season the way many others can.

chocolates with box on white surface

Avoid over-indulging in sweets. While they make you happy in the moment, the inevitable crash can lead to depression. You don’t have to totally deprive yourself unless you have an issue with self-control around food, but make sure you’re not using sweets to fill the void in your life that this season can trigger.

woman in yellow tank top and blue denim skirt holding broom

Keep yourself busy. Attend to tasks you’ve been putting off like cleaning or donating unwanted items. Use this season to concentrate on productive pursuits instead of allowing yourself to wallow in self-pity.

person in blue long sleeve shirt holding babys hand

Be open to happiness and light. Don’t harden your heart or allow resentment to occur. Consider attending a Holiday party, inviting a friend over for dinner, or taking a drive to see the festive lights and decorations many people put out this time of year. Volunteer at a soup kitchen or help an elderly neighbor. Embrace the good parts of the season even though you might find it sorrowful, as well.

I hope everyone celebrating Thanksgiving today is having a wonderful holiday. And I hope you’re taking care of yourselves in all of the most important ways, including attending to your mental health, and that you will continue to do so throughout this Holiday season. Stay safe and warm!

What the Jobs I’ve Held Have Taught Me About Myself

I’ve held several different jobs, in different fields. Some I have liked and felt were a good fit. Others I simply tolerated but did not feel comfortable doing or enjoy. I believe my experience is pretty typical of most workers. Here I’d like to consider the reasons behind why certain jobs were “right for me” and certain jobs weren’t. I think you can learn a lot about yourself based on the kinds of jobs you do well in and those you don’t, those that inspire you and those that drain you.

I have worked as a childcare professional, as both a private babysitter and in group settings (daycare and gym kids’ club). From this line of work, I have learned that I enjoy creativity in my job. For example, I got to make up games, do crafts, and make lots of cool things with Legos with the kids. However, the chaotic, unpredictable nature of children and working in child care do not jive with my spirit but instead cause me anxiety.

I have worked as a caregiver to the elderly via a senior care agency. I enjoyed the solo nature of this work —not having any coworkers—because I worked with private clients and generally in private homes. Even when I would go to a nursing home, assisted living facility, or hospital, I worked one-on-one with the client. I also really enjoyed hearing my elderly clients’ stories and life experiences from past eras, as I love history, and it intrigues me. However, similar to child care, it caused me great anxiety to have someone’s life in my hands or to have to respond quickly and competently to unexpected scenarios arising, such as dementia-related outbursts or medical emergencies. I am not great “on my feet” and feel much more secure when I have gotten the chance to prepare. Driving these clients (in my own car, no less) was also risky and stressful.

I have worked as a retail manager. I enjoyed, once again, the solo nature of this work. I worked in a tiny gift shop owned by an individual with two other managers in charge of the store. I worked second shift and was the only employee in the shop during my shift. Not even the owner was around unless he happened to drop by for a few minutes to take care of some business. I had great responsibilities including ordering stock, money- counting, ensuring shop security, etc. As a result, I took great pride in my job and enjoyed not being micromanaged by anybody. However, it was stressful not having anybody around to help when the shop was very busy or when I had to deal with irate customers.

I have worked as an at-home transcriptionist. The work was legal transcription of a court reporter’s audio files. It required incredible attention to detail and constant focus. I enjoyed using my grammar and spelling strengths in this position, the lack of coworkers and micromanagement, and the ability to take breaks when needed. I could stop early for the day and wake up to do work in the middle of the night if I wanted, as long as I got the work done by the deadline. However, the work was incredibly tedious and mentally-draining.

I have worked as a patient observer. This job was a non-medical position in a hospital emergency room that required me to do room searches and personal searches of patients deemed to be homicidal or suicidal, in order to protect everybody’s safety. It required me never to take my eyes off the patient and to ensure they didn’t have anything they could hurt themselves or others with, such as pens, scissors, or sheets (they might hang themselves). I was constantly pitted between what my supervisors wanted me to do and what the nurses on the floor wanted to be done, and this actually caused me to feel much greater anxiety and insecurity than working with violent patients.

Several years ago, I worked in a major corporate pharmacy chain for a day before quitting. I was hired as a retail associate and was required to do many tasks, including both stocking and cashiering. The training was minimal, most on the computer (so not very practical), and the job was absolutely chaotic. I’d be sitting on the floor stocking something on the bottom shelf when I’d be yelled at by someone to check the front counter because a customer (who I wasn’t able to see from my vantage point) was waiting to check out.

Several years ago, I worked for a major residential cleaning company for a week before realizing that kind of physical labor wasn’t going to be something I could stand on any kind of a consistent basis, and the pay scheme was such that you didn’t actually know how much you’d be paid.

I have worked as a live-in personal assistant. This was another job that allowed me great freedom over when I did my work and how I did my work. I worked for a woman who was the president of a company headquartered in NYC who needed me to cook, clean, do laundry, run errands, make/answer phone calls, and chauffeur herself and her teenage son. I had tons of free time during the day and could run errands of my own in-between. I would say in a 12-hour day I generally had about 2 hours’ worth of actual work to do. However, I felt a little trapped not being able to go back to my own home every night and feeling pressured to do things with the family members outside of my work hours.

My most recent job, up until Covid, was working a desk job in a call center. Although I had lots of coworkers, I rarely interacted with them because I was constantly on the phone doing work at my own cubicle. I have been working this job from home now since April. I enjoy interacting with members over the phone better than in-person, as it is less stressful for me. I enjoy that it is only inbound calls that I make and that it doesn’t include having to make any sales. However, it can be stressful dealing with computers and computer systems that don’t always work, as well as having to learn new systems and software from time to time.

I have learned from my work experiences that I don’t want to do emotional labor. It brings up too many feelings and memories of my own and I feel too great a responsibility for the person. I don’t want to be micromanaged but I do want to have the support there when I need it. I don’t like feeling as though my supervisors think I’m stupid, but I also don’t like feeling as though everything ultimately lies on my shoulders and I don’t have a sounding board. I like knowing what’s expected of me and having those expectations remain consistent. I don’t like being told contradictory information. I want to make sure I’m doing my job well. I like challenges but do not like being set up for failure. I appreciate jobs that are relatively routine but allow me to express my creative side and use my own discretion. I like doing my job but then also having a life separate from that job when the work day has ended. I don’t want work life bleeding into my “real” life. What have you learned about yourself based on the jobs you’ve held?

Can You Trust Your Memory?

Recently, I was discussing some events from a long time ago with a family member. I was surprised to find out that details I thought I very clearly remembered were incorrect. It got me thinking about the possibility of memory being untrustworthy. How is it possible to be so certain you remember something one way when it actually happened another? Or to be positive of certain people, places, or things, but have that information incorrect, as well?

It’s possible to confuse memories with secondhand information. For example, if a story is told enough times within a family, you might start to create mental images in much the same way you do when immersed in reading a book. Eventually, if asked, you will report that you remember an event or conversation of which you actually have no firsthand knowledge.

Your memory is largely filtered by your experiences, personality, and mindset. If you want something to have happened or to have played out in a certain way, it is possible to convince yourself it did. Also, two people can go through the exact same event together yet remember it very differently later on, because their respective minds are filtering the event through different mental paradigms. You might see an event as inherently positive, while somebody else involved could have a very different perspective on that memory. Additionally, if you have had similar experiences, it is possible to merge the memories of two separate occasions into one without realizing it. It’s also possible to use similar situations you’ve experienced to determine how you feel about a certain memory in a similar context. For example, if you generally had bad experiences at all your birthday parties growing up, your mind might not allow you to remember a positive birthday party experience you had because of your conditioned expectation that your birthday parties are not meant to go well, that something bad “always” happens. Personally, I engage in a lot of maladaptive daydreaming, which is a psychological term for creating a fake, yet very convincing reality in order to escape one’s traumas and disappointments. This kind of daydreaming can go on for hours at a time and seem very real. I have experienced confusion in the past when trying to remember if a certain conversation actually happened or if I had daydreamed it.

Your mind tends to fill in gaps in your memory over time. It can feel frustrating, unbalancing, even scary not to remember an event that happened to you in its entirety. It can feel urgent to remember. It can feel (and can actually be) dangerous to forget. It’s possible that after a while your mind will begin to fill in the missing pieces by itself as to give you an entire story, unbroken, from start to finish. I know there have been times I think to myself, “I used to know this. How could I have forgotten? I was even talking about this not so long ago. Did it go like this? That certainly makes sense in the story and I can see that happening, so I think it probably went like that.” Later on down the line, you won’t even remember that you had assumed that part had unfolded in a certain way. You will come to believe you had always retained the memory that way.

But why does any of this matter? How should the above be applied to living a peaceful, fulfilling life? So many people are holding themselves back because of what they deem to be bad memories of negative events that occurred to them in the past, sometimes in the far distant past. Events or conversations that took place and continue to haunt them until this day. Perhaps a recital they feel went terribly or an important talk with a friend they felt they didn’t handle well. However, as we have seen, many of our memories are simply our subconscious fears and insecurities pretending to be fact. Our memories may or may not have actually taken place. Speaking to other people who were there (if the memory is even real at all), it might be surprising to find out they have very different perspectives on what occurred. So do not allow the past to affect your future, because it might not really even be true reflections of your past. Do not elevate your perceptions and perspectives to the height of unarguable truth. Do not give something that might or might not even be real that kind of power over your happiness going forward. Realize that you are in control of your narrative and that you can choose to interpret life experiences as important or insignificant, fateful or impotent, ruinous or enlightening. All that ultimately exists and all that ultimately matters is the present.